The Secret of Mihm
By Rebecca Collins

Local filmmaker Christopher Mihm is about to premiere his latest B-movie tribute "Destination: Outer Space" at the Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights on Tuesday, May 25th. Mihm started making movies several years ago and quickly released a string of films that have garnered him a strong fan base, including "The Monster of Phantom Lake" (2006), "It Came From Another World!" (2007), "Cave Women on Mars" (2008) and "Terror from Beneath the Earth" (2009).

In "Destination: Outer Space" an incident during a test flight of Earth's first faster-than-light-speed rocket throws test pilot Captain Mike Jackson halfway across the galaxy. Lost in deep space, Captain Jackson must use all his wits to find a way back to his world. Billed as "a film unlike any other" the movie includes mysterious alien planets, robotic lifeforms, beautiful space pirates, alien creatures hell-bent on galactic domination and more.

In preparation for Tuesday's unveiling of "Destination," Mihm contacted me with the information about his film (an indie filmmaker always needs to promote!) and so I asked him some questions about his success and the new movie.

Rebecca: You've developed a strong fan base on your own, doing your own promotion and marketing. This is something a lot of indie filmmakers are trying to figure out right now. What have been the keys to your success in this area?

Christopher: Familiarity with information technologies: I think my being a computer programmer/web designer has helped me utilize the Internet in ways that have been extremely beneficial. Heck, most of what I do or how people have found me has been through the Internet — and most of my sales over time have been through my website.

Second: perseverance (and Stubbornness!) I literally spend almost two to three hours every night I can — which is most — doing SOMETHING involved in either making or promoting the films. And I've been doing this since I started in 2005! My spending the time to contact you and answer your questions is a good example.

Third: Interaction. Since I throw a lot of events myself and almost always personally show up, it's allowed me to get to know people and make a connection — something I think has fed people's taste for my work AND pushed people to want to be involved — something I also encourage! "Destination: Outer Space" was financed by fans and it was the fans who came out to help me build sets, build props, design costumes, and even play roles as either costumed extras or, as was the case with fan (and really talented guy) Mitch Gonzales, step into multiple, larger roles!

Note: Financing for "Destination: Outer Space" fell through when a major investor had to drop out. In response, Mihm asked his fans via his website for $50 donations to help finish the film in exchange for DVDs, tickets to the premiere and "associate producer" credits on the film. He was thinking he would get 5 to 10 people and 50 ended up signing on to help.

Rebecca: Why do you think your movies hold such an appeal for people?

Christopher: I'd say the biggest appeal is the nostalgia factor. Some people like them because it reminds them of going out to the drive-in or local theater back when those types of films were new. Some remember growing up in the "horror host" era of the '60s and '70s where local stations would fill dead airtimes by screening old schlocky films hosted by local actors dressed up in horror/Halloween styles ("Horror Incorporated" was the Twin Cities equivalent that originally started WITHOUT a host).

I sprinkle many references to modern genre entertainment throughout my films so they also seem to appeal to obsessive sci-fi and horror fans (something I consider myself to be!). Lastly, all my films are as authentic as I can make them but they are also family friendly. There's no extreme violence or blood or guts and no hardcore language or sex. Thus, one of the biggest groups of fans are kids that find them scary enough to get a small thrill out of them but not so scary as to be nightmare inducing.

Rebecca: In your own words, what is this latest film about? What inspired it beyond "Star Wars?"

Christopher: "Destination: Outer Space" is my attempt at a grand "space epic." Having grown up on "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" and '70s and '80s sci-fi, I find that I am more or less a sci-fi geek first. From "Doctor Who" to the original "Battlestar Galactica" and "Buck Rogers" or "The Last Starfighter," I just ate that stuff up as a kid. So when it came to do my fifth film, I knew I wanted to do something bigger than the others.

This led me back to an original idea co-producer Josh Craig and I had while we were working on "Cave Women on Mars" in 2007 — that being a rip-roaring space adventure film with aliens and beautiful space pirates and all the trappings of the best B-grade sci-fi. Mix that with my "1950s-drive-in" sensibilities and "Destination: Outer Space" is what you end up with!

Rebecca: Where else will people have a chance to see it over the summer, if they can't attend the premiere?

Christopher: In addition to the premiere, the film will be playing over Memorial Day weekend as the third movie in a triple feature at the Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theatre in Jefferson, Wisconsin. As of right now, most of the additional screenings are scheduled for the fall. As I finalize other dates, I add them to the calendar on the screenings page of my website.

Rebecca: What are your plans for this movie empire you're building? Did you ever imagine yourself as a filmmaker when you were growing up?

Christopher: To be honest, I don't really have any concrete plans other than to keep trying to make films for as long as it remains fun. The moment it becomes a chore or starts to feel like a crappy day job, I'm done!

That having been said, I would love to get to a point of pulling in enough money to make some sort of modest living at it but since the beginning, I've pretty much broken even on each film — so I'm being realistic and just enjoying the ride while it lasts! And as a kid I did imagine how cool it'd be to make my own movies and TV shows but I never took the thought too seriously. At one point I wanted instead to be a rock star but admittedly, I was never good enough! But I did have some fun while I tried.

Rebecca: Did you love B movies when you were growing up? What were other influences?

Christopher: My father introduced me to the old B-movies because they were the movies he grew up on and he wanted to share some of his childhood with me. So yes, I did grow up on them but in reality, I didn't truly LOVE them until after my father's death in 2000 when I went back and cathartically rewatched them. Seeing them again as an adult and from a nostalgic perspective, I really just fell head over heels for them — to a degree I was NOT expecting! As for other influences, like I said previously, a lot of "Star Trek," "Star Wars," '70s and '80s sci-fi films and TV, "Ghostbusters" — stuff like that.

Also, I'm a pretty big fan of film as spectacle as opposed to film as art form. I can appreciate the art form for what it is and I do like films that push the boundaries of the medium but if I'm being blunt, I prefer movies that WOW me, no matter how mindless! I like big budget special effects extravaganzas and I would LOVE to be able to make one. However, I know I don't have the budget (or even the talent or patience) to make films like that. So instead, I sort of do what I can with what I have and wrap it into the 1950s genre. This allows me to bring my big, out-of-this-world ideas to life while using the cheesy charm of that era to sell them — AND stealthily hide my mistakes and missteps by chalking them up to being authentic to that classic B-movie style!

Rebecca: Are you working on your next film?

Christopher: I'm in the very early planning stages of it. If everything works out, I'll be shooting in the fall and HOPEFULLY be able to release it next spring. The only hint I'll give is that there will be a sci-fi element and a great monster… or monsters! (Which is an incredibly vague hint since ALL of my films include sci-fi elements and monsters!)

"Destination: Outer Space" premieres at the Heights Theatre on Tuesday, May 25, doors open at 6:45 p.m. and the screening begins at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are no longer available but some are still available for purchase at the door. Tickets are $5.

Actor/producer Josh Craig, writer/director Christopher R. Mihm,
and actor Catherine Hansen confer between takes